Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BIng and Decide

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last few months you have seen advertising for Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.

The Washington state boheamoth is marketing Bing as a decision engine as opposed to a "search" engine. Along the journey to the unveiling of the decision engine, Microsoft acquired a little known travel company called Farecast. With fare predictions and price tracking, Farecast is a great property to have in a tool focused on decision making. Farecast, now Bing travel, will actually give an individual the probability of a price increase/decrease and a recommendation to buy or wait for the fare to drop.

However, as cool and useful as tools like Farecast are, Microsoft has a long way to go on search. According to the most recent data, Live Search had a 2.5% global search market share while Google is floating above the 80% mark. This is a large disparity for a company that obsesses about market share. The question is, will Bing be enough to dethrone Google?

The interesting part of the Bing marketing strategy is in its positioning. Notice that MS is calling it a decision engine. In the "search" category the first in mind is Google... in fact for most of us Google is synonymous with search. So, Microsoft obviously recognized that a first mover can be difficult to beat, so it created a new category for which they will be first in the consumer's mind... or so their strategy goes. What remains to be seen is whether or not the average web surfer believes their is a difference between a search engine and a decision engine.

Having used Bing and mobile Bing the last several weeks, I think it actually has a fair shot at gaining Microsoft a foothold in the search category. However, I don't see a dethroning of Google even as it exists today.It will become even more difficult for Microsoft if Goole reacts with innovations of their own.

Let the games begin.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

MBA Degree for Life?

I recently read an article about some changes to Pepperdine's MBA Degree program.

It looks the Graziadio School wants to increase the value of every Business School student that enters their program. Let me explain...

The program is called MBA Plus. The marketing premise is that an individual should continue to learn even after receiving their MBA Degree. To facilitate this practice, Pepperdine will be offering former students a 75% discount on tuition for up to four credits. If you go over four credits, then the discount is only 25%.

So, what does a credit cost at Pepperdine anyway? The answer is $1273 for one credit. That means for an alum taking four credits the total bill for a course would be $1273, but if you want to take 8 credits, that jumps to $7638 and it goes up from there. It looks to me like Pepperdine is looking at ways to make some extra dough during an economic downturn.

Of course, if you are a glass half full kind of guy or gal, then we could say that they are simply facilitating the continued learning of their gradtuates... at a discounted price no less! It is reasonable to believe that Pepperdine simply wants to serve its alumni the best it can while continuing to build some brand equity in their MBA degree... but I'm still a bit skeptical.

I do have to admit that I wouldn't mind continuing to take some courses after graduation. Plus, it would provide great networking opportunities for the current class of students. I'm still not convinced, though. This may be a win-win, but the motives are probably in the wrong place. What do you think?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Business School in the Summertime

On Tuesday I started my summer session of business school. I’m still trying to figure out if I can call myself a 2nd year student yet…

The classes I’m enrolled in for the next 8 weeks are Psych 598 and Management 500.

The Psych class is focused on the rationality/irrationality of people, or in the business school context, consumers. So far we’ve discussed a lot of the topics that are covered in Malcolm Gladwell’s, Blink (although, we are not studying this book specifically in the class). The main conversation has been around the idea of associations and what John Gottman calls “thin slicing”. Basically, thin slicing is the split second judgments that people make on an everyday basis.
For example, when you see a person standing outside a car it is what makes you think, “that man is going to steal that car” vs. “what a nice car that guy has”. Much of the information that goes into your decision comes about from a lifetime of associations that have been conditioned.
An interesting exercise to conduct to see your own associations and biases is an IAT test.

The Management 500 class is a brick and mortar leadership course. The professor has her PhD in organizational behavior and yes she is an HR type. Despite my negative expectation of “leadership classes”, this one looks like it will actually be worth the time. Our first lecture/discussion centered on decision making as a process. The main thrust was an in-depth look at biases that are present in leaders and what to do to avoid them. One examples that we looked at was the launch of the Challenger space shuttle which took place despite credible evidence that a failure would occur in a low temperature environment.

It should be an interesting term since both of the courses that I am taking focus on the behavioral side of management, which is in contrast to the heavily quantitative first-year core classes that I have just completed.

I will keep you posted!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Break is Over... Back to the MBA Degree

It has been three glorious weeks since my last class, but tomorrow I will return to the work of completing my MBA degree. The program that I am in requires summer school between your first and second year (but not your third and fourth).

Since I'm already going to be there, I added an elective class to help me graduate even earlier. One of the classes is on leadership and the other (the elective)is a class from the Psych department. The leadership course sounds like a standard brick/mortar class, but the Psych class is a little bit different...

The professor is a Post-doctoral student at Northwestern University. He has been working in the Kellog School of Management and researching subconscious bias in decision making, especially in the workplace. He centers some of his research on women in the work place and how they are viewed by others. In any case, much of his work is published and links can be found on his website socialjudgements.com.

It sounds like the course is an attempt to taylor this research and principles that can be drawn from it to an MBA cirriculum. My hope is that the course will focus more on the marketing and consumer aspects of the research rather than the management lens.

The course is not specifically part of an MBA degree, but it is allowed under a clause that permits two classes per student from other schools at the University. I plan to gauge the course based on the first class and then drop it if it doesn't fit the marketing concentration that I am after.

Yep... it's back to school with me tomorrow. The break wasn't nearly long enough :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Recovery Time

I've been out of school now for almost two weeks, and unemployed for 2 1/2. This has to be one of the best times of my life. Let me explain....

One month ago I was racing back and fourth between work, school, and study groups. 2 days a week my day started at 5:45AM and didn't wrap up until after 10pm. I consistently spent 15-20 hours a weekend with my group working on projects. I didn't check my mail, pay my bills, do the dishes, or take out the trash nearly as of often as I should have. What I am finding now is that I have about 2 solid weeks of work just sitting around my house left over from this period of time. But the great part is that I actually get to take care of this stuff now. I have time, and it's wonderful.

In the last 2 weeks, I have run 24 miles, attempted to make Punjabi chicken curry twice, tried a new guacamole recipe, done about 100 push ups, rowed 2 miles, spent 3 hours sharpening my excel skills, met with multiple people at my business school including career services and the Assistant Dean, gone for a hike, become a regular at my local coffee shop, built a wooden planter, and replaced no fewer than 4 light bulbs. I'm a machine, and I'm just getting started.

On Thursday, I plan to run 7 miles. I also have aspirations to clean out the garage, buy and build some storage in there, sell a record player on ebay, sell some camera equipment on ebay, continue to meet with career services, run a half-marathon, finish building a room in my garage, attempt crown molding in two separate rooms, take a cheap vacation to Canada, do one hundred pushups in 1 set, read a few books, and make at least one good curry dish... oh, and get a new job.

The truth is that getting a new job isn't very top of mind. Don't get me wrong, I've applied for 8 positions and I'm working on my resume and cover letter, but I wouldn't mind if it took another 3 weeks or so to find it. After all, I'm very busy!

When this chapter of my life comes to a close I am confident that I will look back at this time with fondness. I was freed from a job I greatly disliked with pay through enough time to catch up on everything I set aside. And, I now have a chance to form some habits that will probably stick with me in some form for the rest of my life.

So, I hope that one day you too can experience a time of restoration. Obviously a sebatacle would be better than being unemployed, but I will definitely be making the best of my circumstances.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Business School and Tutors - Introducing graduatetutor.com

I have now had a few days to reflect on my first year of business school and am amazed at how much information I was exposed to. Here is a recap of the classes that took:

Financial Accounting
Micro Economics
Corporate Finance
Open Innovation
Marketing Management
Managerial Accounting

These courses taught me things like NPV analysis, financial statement analysis, price theory, deriving a demand curve, regressions, lead user research, marketing strategy, and management control systems. The nice thing for me is that I was business major in undergrad, so I had a base for each class that I took.

So, what about everyone else... my classmates. Well many of them sought out tutors among family members and friends. I'm sure that some paid for one to one tutoring. I strongly considered getting help in statistics myself, but was unable to find a convenient option.

Funny enough, the other day I discovered a pretty sweet Business School tutoring website. Their URL is graduatetutor.com. This is a service that is really designed for serious graduate students who want help in rigorous subjects like Accounting, Finance, Operations, Statistics, and more. They also offer GMAT help. The tutoring is actually administered 1 on 1 using voip and a shared workspace. The tutors are highly qualified and personable.

I may take advantage of this service in the future, but I really wish I would have known about it during my first year. If you're planning on attending B-School, be sure to look these guys up. I'll warn you that it isn't cheap, but they have a very good value propisition :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I've Officially Completed the First Year of My MBA Degree

It's actually been a few days now since I turned in my last final exam, but I haven't had a chance to hop on here to tell everyone. I'm done! Year one of my MBA degree is over.

The last exam I completed was a Marketing case on Kingsford Charcoal. I actually lit up the BBQ before starting the exam to give me a sense of the business - this was definitely the best part of the test. I think I put about 15 hours into the final after eating some fantastic hamburgers. It was one of the most comprehensive exams I've had to take so far in B School.

It included most of the cradle to grave analysis and planning that we studied throughout the course. Strategy (problem ID and objectives), background info (customers, competitors, collaborators, company, and context), STP (segmentation, targeting, and positioning), and implementation (product, price, place, and promotion). The major problem for Kingsford (year 2000) was that the charcoal category was increasing in price and gas grills were beginning to catch on. Customers liked the ease of use and quick clean up of gas in addition to the comparitively falling price point.

The case led you to the conclusion that Kingsford wanted to grow the category and that in order to do that they needed to come up with the market opportunity ($$$$$), a budget, and an implementation scheme. Of course, to do any of this we needed to identify the customer segments, there needs/wants, how much they were worth, etc.

At the end of the day I went with a strategy of targeting 2 casual user groups with Kingsford Instant charcoal (this is the charcoal soaked in lighter fluid). I emphasized the taste and set up a $9 Million ad/promotion budget that required about $30 Million more in sales over the next 3 years. There were many ideas present in my plan about collaborations with sports leagues, grill manufacturers, etc.

We received out grades back yesterday and I think I did enough to get an A (difficult to tell with the curve). And that checked the final box...

It actually feels a little bit wierd to have completed the first year of an MBA degree. I imagined myself to be much wiser at the end of this year, but I think I learned a lot about how much I don't know. It can be a humbling experience.

Well... I'm off to enjoy a nice sunny day. Stay tuned...